The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) lauds the government’s announcement to enact a freedom of information act and amend the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA) accordingly.
It is commendable that a special cabinet committee on national governance chaired by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim noted that this is a positive step towards enabling the public the right to access public information held by government agencies, thus improving public services and promoting public participation in national policies.
A progressive right to information regime will promote a culture of transparency and contribute to enhancing the public’s trust in the governance process.
As the prime minister’s office rightly pointed out, it would be crucial for “clear parameters and guidelines” to be created to enable the public’s access to information effectively. Malaysia can soon join Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines as countries in Asean with legislation on right to information or freedom of information, and 129 countries worldwide.
It would be useful to draw from good practices and learn from the experiences of other countries in the drafting of the right to information bill, as well as in developing effective mechanisms and structures of implementation towards building an enabling environment for the public’s right to access information in Malaysia.
- Sign up for Aliran's free daily email updates or weekly newsletters or both
- Make a one-off donation to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB a/c 8004240948
- Make a pledge or schedule an auto donation to Aliran every month or every quarter
- Become an Aliran member
Right to information and freedom of information legislation has two primary functions:
- Sets a clear framework on how government-held information is managed and proactively disclosed to the public, and sets the grounds for restriction of certain disclosures
- Establishes a mechanism and service standards for the public to request access to government-held information. This creates an obligation for government agencies to receive and respond to requests in a timely manner, mandates the allocation of organisational human resources, and creates an appeals process where a formal, fair and independent process can be initiated to review the denial of information requests
It is fundamental that the right to information law is in line with international human rights principles and standards, and be informed by the following:
- Access to information is a right
- Access is the rule and secrecy the exception
- In principle, the OSA should be repealed. Notwithstanding, any amendments to the OSA must ensure that it is aligned with the new right to information legislation. Please refer to the CIJ’s proposed amendments to the OSA
- Any limitations or restrictions of access to information must be on specific grounds to be listed in the act and apply the international standards of legitimate aim, necessity and proportionality. Public interest shall prevail based on a harm test
- It should facilitate proactive disclosures and guarantee meaningful and ease of access, including for persons with disabilities and across all digital and geographical divides
- It should establish a right to information commission, which shall act as an independent oversight body mandated to review refusals or denial of disclosures, establish progressive practices and advance right to information in Malaysia
- It should ensure adequate budget allocations to support the implementation of the act
In line with this, the CIJ would like to urge the government to set up a steering committee, that comprises civil society and other experts, to facilitate the drafting of the right to information bill and the amendments to the OSA.
We hope the government, through the legal affairs division under the Prime Minister’s Department, continues its engagement with multi-stakeholders in guaranteeing a progressive and substantive new legislation. – CIJ
Wathshlah G Naidu is executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism